Estill Pollock: Undertow

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Estill Pollock’s latest poetry collections, Entropy, Time Signatures and the forthcoming  Ark, are published in the United States by Broadstone Books, and are available through Amazon and Blackwell’s (Oxford) online catalogue.

You can read further long poems by Estill here: January 23, 2022, July 26, 2022 and October 25, 2022   



1. Ronnie

I knew a man with HATE
across his knuckles—prison tatt: the others, Mom
and a Marines’ banner, globe and eagle
inked across pumped biceps.

We worked night shift flipping burgers
at a dump on the bypass—he chopping cabbage
for the coleslaw while I took
orders at the counter.

The boss said keep him from the cash—
his first job since he got out, so
no point tempting fate.

He called me ‘hippie kid’ and told me
get a haircut—his usual comment
for everything: ’Oh for Christ sake,’ followed by,
‘The world is doleful wonder.’

We closed and did the pan wash by eleven
most nights, sometimes later if Ronnie decided
to hang out in the back with a guy
he knew, somebody nervous—no names.

One Monday the boss said Ronnie
was gone—that a new guy
was coming in, and to show him the ropes.

Ronnie’s wife came round, asking had I seen him.

I told the boss about the wife, and he just said,
which one.

2. Paulie

When the aliens arrive, some people say,
it will be not to share secrets
of interstellar flight, but to eat us.

Against the fateful day, Paulie toted
a pistol—‘just a .22’ he said,
but enough to drill a meathead close-range.

Meathead—his name for anything not from here.

The police one night pulled him over
in his Camero, the car reported near a murder scene.

They asked him, was he armed, and he
said no, just the .22—then later under the seat
they found a snub-nose .38, inside
a McDonalds wrapper.

His lawyer tried a plea, but Paulie blew the deal
with ‘no comment’ to questions
about three slugs in the dead guy’s back.

To his lawyer, he confided, ‘The meatheads
are always in disguise. They look
like anybody, but live
off babies’ brains.’

He went down for life, and kept himself
to himself, except on days
the grey stewed pork was served,
when he had to be restrained.

3. Sharon

Sharon worked tables at the place
by the river—trays of beers and steaks,
ten years the same shift.

Her hair was jet, flecked grey—her eyes
still blue as the day her husband left.

She was thinking about how to fix
her screen door on the porch, when
a guy sat down in the corner booth.

After he ordered, the guy
said, ‘Sharon…right?’ She thought he looked
like people who all looked the same.

Then he said, he used to be pals with Doug,
her son, and how the hell was he.

She said he changed his name—ditched
the Doug for ‘Dutch,’ working now
mostly nights for some Cubans.

The guy just nodded, then said
he was sorry to hear about her husband,
but at least the girlfriend got ‘what’s coming.’

Sharon thought the same, and agreed,
friendly-like—as everybody knows
it makes a difference with the tips.

4. Alice

Alice loved Benny, and said so.

In his car, she sat right up close, sometimes
even laying her head on his lap.

One time, Benny had to swerve the car
and her head jammed against
the steering wheel.

After that, she sat on her own side.

One night, she was home and her Mom
said Benny’s Mom called, and Benny
was dead.

He was on the old road, out near Grayson’s farm,
and must have missed the bend.

Ellen Grayson was the first there—such
a pretty girl, but calm, considering
what she saw.

She tried to get to him, she said, and hurt her neck
reaching in.

Everyone is upset,
but like Benny’s Mom says, even so, people
should be thanked, for everything they did.

5. Little Jill

‘Little Jill,’ they called her, after the sister
who died before Little Jill was born.

They all said she was the spit of Jill,
the real one, only younger of course, and that
never bothered her until she
and Harry dated steady all summer.

Her Mom told Harry he should have seen Jill—
he would have really liked her. Harry
just laughed, then looked
to see if Little Jill was laughing too.

Harry started asking what Jill was like,
and Little Jill told him, ‘No idea—
you need to ask my Mom.’

Her Mom pulled out photos, and downloads
of holidays with Jill
in her bikini—even postcards she sent
from that work experience thing abroad.

All that finished, of course, when
they found the cancer, and she
only eighteen—her Mom adding,
‘We never planned to have another, with Jill
so special, but then Little Jill
just happened.’

‘Besides’, she said, ’we had to call her something.’

6. Frank

Mr. Thomas taught Mathematics with a stick—
rat-a-tat rat-a-tat on the blackboard
beneath equations for Calculus and Trig,
before him a room of blank faces
indifferent to cosines.

Except Frank—algebraic mysteries
for him a sunny stroll, and Mr. Thomas
smiling, ‘Now, Frank, perhaps just
take us through your workings here.’

The rest of us slunk out at the bell.

Frank got Marley on the rebound—Marley,
too pretty to be alone for long, dumped
her old boyfriend
when Frank got a car: she only dated
her roughneck ex
for the air con in his Buick.

The ex’s wingmen, Alvin Grey
and Donald Kelly, followed the lovers
to a back road park-up, then drove away slow
and told the ex—a greaser-tough
in anybody’s book, now payback punk
for Marley.

Frank and Marley, looking up
at the tap tap tap on the window, saw the ex
and one last thing—the barrel of the twelve-gauge.

At school, the whispers first, then
little groups of disbelief in hallways—the Staff

Mr. Thomas taught Mathematics
part-time after—no stick now, only chalk
and chalk tray dust, and the class
that never met his eye.

He called their names indifferently, standing
hands in pockets, just staring
out the window.

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